Author Archives: ari

Paywall business model for news doesn’t match readers’ expectations in the long run

2019-05-21

A report titled Pay Models for Online News in the US and Europe: 2019 Update published in April 2019 by the Reuters Institute indicates that the number of newspapers that charge for access to their online news is slowly increasing. The study, conducted in association with the Oxford University, features six European markets (Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, UK) and the US. Even though not really a global study, it covers a variety of markets that have different languages and cultures.

The key points of the report are:

69% of major newspapers in seven studied media markets have a paywall. It is a small increase from 2017. In the US, however, newspaper paywalls increased from 60% to 76%.
Absolute paywalls that require payment before any news can be accessed are very rare (3%) amongst the 212 news organisations studied.
Monthly subscription prices average €14.09 – only a small difference to prices of 2017. The range is from €2 to €41.50 a month.
All television and radio broadcasters included in the study provide free access to their digital news sites.
Practically all (94%) news outlets that were established as digital only offer free access to their content.

Reuters Institute, Oxford Unversity: newspaper paywall study
WAN IFRA (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers) regards the rise of paywalls as a sustainable model, but I disagree. Access to information on the internet has already changed the media landscape completely. The same old subscribe-to-our-fine-newspaper –model won’t work in the long run.

Isn’t it obvious there is a flaw in the newspapers’ paywall business model?

There was a time when I deliberately inked my fingers at the breakfast table. The morning newspaper was a huge, thick stack of paper sheets with pages covered in fresh black ink. We had to pay a considerable amount of money for a media company to deliver those stacks of paper to our homes. It was fine. Later during the day, we possibly heard fresh news on a radio or television.

When the world moved to digital media, and news on the internet were updated and available 24 hours a day, the newspaper business model has largely stayed the same. Each of the leading brands are asking readers to pay for access to their online news.

Sure, there are a few media outlets in the world that can get readers to pay for online news, like The Economist, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and each market’s biggest newspaper.
Financial Times, subscription options
If, for instance, an active news follower wants to read The Economist, The New York Times, and the leading newspaper of her home market, she has to subscribe to three services behind paywalls. If we apply the average monthly price of 14.09 euros, the total cost is 42.27 euros per month. This is for news alone.

Movie subscription service Netflix lets you watch films published by hundreds of studios and production companies by paying about 8 euros a month. The subscriber is not tied to one content production company but Netflix streams content from multiple sources. The business model allows sharing the revenue between production companies whose content has been watched.

Ebook subscription service Scribd charges USD 8.99 per month for access to a library of more than million books, audiobooks, and to a selection of magazines and newspapers. There are some restrictions on the number of books and articles that you can read, but a normal person who reads a lot is unlikely to meet those limits. The business model that Scribd and other similar book subscription services use is based on revenue share. Publishers are paid according to a number of times their content has been read.
Scribd monthly subscription to ebooks, magazines, audiobooks
Online music service Spotify lets you listen to the music published everywhere in the world for 9.99 euros per month. Millions and millions of songs and classical tunes to listen to on a phone, tablet, or PC. A fraction of the revenue goes to the artist and composer, and also studios get their share of the revenue.

If you subscribe to all three: Netflix, Scribd and Spotify, it still costs less than three high-quality newspaper subscriptions.

Playster is a subscription service that has bundled books, movies and music into a package that costs 39.95 euros per month. I haven’t tried Playster yet, so it is difficult to assess if it has the same amount of quality content as individual subscription services have.

Apple is developing its service businesses, and has introduced new products, among them a service called News+. It is a subscription to newspapers and magazines for USD 9.99 a month. Apple says hundreds of news sources are available in the service, but the small number of major newspapers has raised many eyebrows.

So, if you are subscribing to a couple of newspaper services, and a few other digital media services, having to login to multiple online services has its inconveniences. User names, passwords, credit cards, security and privacy can be different at each service. Monitoring payments to all services you are subscribing to can become a headache.

The flaws in newspapers’ paywall business model are obvious: price, inconvenience for having to login to each service separately, managing and tracking payments to each service separately, and the fear of missing out (of news published on other sites).

I bet that in the long term services like Apple News Plus and Scribd are something readers are more willing to pay for than individual newspaper subscriptions.
Apple News+ subscription service

Plagiarism in self-publishing is an older problem than CopyPasteCris case

2019-05-05

Plagiarism is a nasty problem that hides in the dark corners of self-publishing. In essence, it is a shortcut where a wannabe writer steals authors’ published works, and labels the result as their own work. An advanced plagiarism scheme where a person produced a number of books by mixing real authors’ original works has recently been revealed. It is called CopyPasteCris.
person holding stack of books in hands
The name for the case was derived from Cristiane Serruya who is been accused of copy-pasting entire paragraphs and sections into her own books from at least 90 copyrighted books. The most renowned author who accuses Serruya of plagiarism is Nora Roberts. Roberts has filed a lawsuit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil against Serruya for plagiarism.

Just when Serruya, who claims to be a Brazilian lawyer, was closing all his social media accounts and author pages in February 2019, Lucas Mota managed to get in touch with Serruya and interview her. She answers Mota’s direct questions but doesn’t give direct answers.

A number of ghostwriters and editors who had edited a few of Serruya’s books have shed some light on the way the scheme worked. It looks like Serruya (or someone working with her or for her) put together a sloppy manuscript that wasn’t quite complete. Serruya hired ghostwriters and editors to create a book with a storyline from that manuscript. Once it was ready, she hired someone to create a cover image with Serruya’s name as the author, and started marketing her new book. She published several books, but they should be unavailable by now.

When tweets about plagiarism were posted on Twitter, Claire Ryan, an author and a programmer, did a clever thing. She created a program that read popular books and compared the content to Serruya’s books. Bingo. Results were obvious. The worrying thing was that she had discovered more copied sections from more books than anyone had expected. Entire paragraphs and sections were copied from copyrighted books.

Serruya will have to explain in court what she did. It will be interesting.

This process – a wannabe author, hint of plagiarism, suspicion, proof of plagiarism – reminds me of what happened to us a while ago. Here is our story.

What to do if you suspect you are working with a plagiarist?

A few years ago, we worked with a writer who needed our help to publish his book. It wasn’t rocket science, but a straightforward guidebook. Our team dutifully edited the manuscript, produced an ebook, and submitted it to bookstores for sale. First, we delivered it to Amazon that said: no, thank you. Amazon rejected the book, saying they suspected plagiarism.

What? None of us had suspected anything. It was an ordinary project, although the manuscript required plenty of work. The person who had delivered us the manuscript had acted normally, signed a contract with us, but denied plagiarism when asked. So, we wanted to do some research of our own to understand if Amazon was right, and what was going on.

I remembered some businesses that provided plagiarism checks for academic papers for educational institutions who had advertised with us earlier. There had to be online services that could verify any written text for plagiarism.

Sure enough, I discovered a few businesses that were specialized in detecting plagiarism. For instance, Grammarly, PlagScan, and Viper. I chose PlagScan. The report was thorough and easy to read.
Plagscan: plagiarism analysis results
The results were condemning. The analysis service indicated that paragraphs in various sections of the manuscript were copied from other sources, mostly from web pages. No algorithm can produce 100% correct results based on an automatic analysis. If a sentence or a paragraph is an exact duplicate, it is easy for an algorithm to recognize. Our plagiarist had made minor tweaks here and there. A good algorithm can spot them as well, but not every item. Algorithms also may discover sections that are not copied from other sources. So, manual research is required as well to allow thorough understanding of the scope of the suspected plagiarism.

After this episode, we stopped working with the person who had put together the manuscript. It was like a plague. Avoid contact, don’t distribute it.

In this case, we have to thank Amazon’s review process that pointed us to the right direction (potential plagiarism discovered). Until that point, we didn’t have any reason to doubt that there would be anything wrong with the project (except for sloppy manuscript).

In the end, no harm was done. Amazon intervened, we stopped the production and distribution process. We spent a little extra money and did some extra work, but it was a lesson for us.

In CopyPastCris case, the accused plagiarist probably managed to take economical advantage of other people’s copyrighted works. If proven, it is serious. That’s why Serruya will answer to the judge what she did during her dubious writing career.

The thing with #CopyPasteCris is that there will always be people who try to find a shortcut to success. In book publishing, they often need professional help from honest freelancers and businesses. Avoid these shady characters like a plague.

Ebook reading, travel, and other mobile apps may be leaking private data to Facebook

2019-03-25

Writers, ebook lovers, travelers, and anyone who is using downloaded applications on their mobile phones or tablets are silently leaking their personal data to Facebook. A research organization has published a study that shows how apps, including popular travel applications like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Yelp and Skyscanner continuously transmitted users’ private data to Facebook.

An earlier study indicated that 42.55% of free apps on the Google Play Store sent private data to Facebook without having users’ permission to do so. A recent study published in December 2018 discovered that at least 61% of tested mobile apps automatically transmitted personal data to Facebook the very moment the app is opened. The apps transmit a set of data to Facebook in every case: whether the user has a Facebook account or not, or whether the user is logged into Facebook or not.

Privacy International, a non-profit organisation based in London, conducted the research that discovered how extensive the leaking of private data from mobile apps is. The study focused only on Android apps downloaded from the Google Play Store, and their silent background connection to Facebook.
Kayak app screen capture
Privacy International tested many types of apps, trying to find out if they connected to Facebook servers. For instance, all tested travel applications – Tripadvisor, Yelp, Kayak, and Skyscanner (as reported by Skift) – sent data to Facebook. In addition, Kayak and Skyscanner also sent user’s Google ad id to Facebook. This, however, is not the only nasty problem travel booking apps have: they are also seriously troubled by fake reviews and misleading travel product information.

Four months after the Privacy International research paper was published, some apps were re-tested. Cnet reported that Yelp, Duolingo, Indeed, and a few religious apps were still sharing user data without having a permission to do so. Music library Spotify, and travel apps Skyscanner and Kayak don’t automatically connect with Facebook anymore.

Mobile apps send plenty of data to Facebook in the background

The report concludes that the largest set of data was leaked by the Kayak app. User’s private information that Kayak provided to Facebook included:

When the search was done
Name of the app
Google advertising id
Departure city, airport, and date
Arrival city, airport, and date
Number of tickets, including number of children
Class of tickets (economy, business or first class)

Facebook hasn’t told exactly what it does with the data it receives from the apps. The peculiar thing with this discovery is that the apps send user data to Facebook. It doesn’t matter if the user has a Facebook account, the data is always transmitted to the social media giant.

Nonetheless, Facebook explained how the data is collected. The company provides application developers with programming tools – a Software Development Kit (SDK) – that they can use, for instance, for identifying the user, for getting statistics, and for displaying ads in the app. Once a programmer includes the Facebook provided identification in the app, it starts sending data to the social media service databases.

The major observations of the Facebook data leak study

Observation 1: at least 61 percent of apps tested automatically transferred data to Facebook. This concerns all users – with and without Facebook account, or whether they are logged into Facebook or not.

Observation 2: Many apps send the user’s unique Google ad id to Facebook as well. It is an ad targeting id that is unique to the user. Using this id and data from apps, the user can be identified.

Observation 3: Some apps continuously send Facebook data that is detailed and often sensitive. Travel booking app Kayak was a prime example of this activity (as listed above).

Observation 4: For a normal mobile app user, it is practically impossible to prevent apps from sending data to Facebook. The research report proposes a high-tech solution that involves installing a firewall on the phone that can prevent traffic to specified addresses (using a firewall app such as AFWall+ or NetGuard). Changing Facebook’s privacy settings did not prevent tracking.

Tips for preventing apps from leaking private data to Facebook

tripadvisor app on phone, screen shot

The safest option is not to install an app at all, especially if an alternative exists.
Once an app has been downloaded, and the app is opened on the mobile device, there is practically nothing a user can do to prevent it from leaking data. Installing and configuring a firewall is something an ordinary people won’t do.
In some cases, accessing a social media or another service in a browser can be a safer alternative than an app. The research team tested the Opera browser, and discovered it doesn’t send data to Facebook. Dropbox is application that keeps your data away from Facebook’s databases as well.

Change to a phone that is running on secure operating system
The research argues that Google is even bigger private data collector than Facebook. To stop Google and Facebook getting your personal data, finding a phone that doesn’t run on Android is an option. Apple iPhone is the major brand that also claims they care about customers’ privacy. Even Apple can’t completely prevent independent apps from sending data to other parties.
The best choice is to change to an open source software that has been reviewed by experts. One of them is /e/ (eelo) operating system, but at the moment, it requires an experienced techie to install it on a phone.

GDPR will affect rogue practices
The European Union online privacy regulation known as GDPR has been in effect since May 2018. The first court cases that define how it is applied have been started. Regarding GDPR, Facebook argues it is the application developer’s responsibility to manage it follows the GDPR rules. GDPR is intended to protect people from businesses that are collecting their data without permission, so the laws will have an impact on these malpractices sooner or later.

5 travel and tourism megatrends reflect the rise of new technologies, businesses and prospering nations

2019-03-14

Travel and tourism is already one of the largest, yet also one of the fastest growing global industries. It was estimated to account for about 10% of global GDP in 2017. Entire regions depend on the arrival of tourists, like Bali or Southern Portugal. Since the world is changing, travel is changing. Here are five megatrends that are shaping the way the world travels in the near future.
Valencia, Spain, Europe. crowds at a fiesta.
The five megatrends have been identified by WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) and Bloomberg Media. WTTC is an organization that represents the Travel & Tourism private sector globally.

The travel and tourism megatrends 2019 according to the WTTC report are as follows.

1. Reality, Enhanced

Anywhere, anytime connectivity that allows access to information, communities and services have led to an experience-driven world that only 20 years was pure science fiction.

Today, it is reality. For some people, it can be harsh reality that has gone a step too far. Digital detox and unplugging from social media, or from the internet altogether for awhile is a real option for stressed minds. New travel products and services can help people who experience anxiety because of their digital habits. It doesn’t have to mean a year on an isolated island, but a trek to a mountain, or a bicycle trip around Lake Geneva. Additionally, wellness and travel have a close relationship that both industries are rapidly developing.

2. Life, Restructured

Work, especially knowledge work, is expected to change dramatically in the near future. Not only because of artificial intelligence (AI), but because of the so called gig economy. People want to work remotely and it already has a big impact on life, commute and travel.

As much as 50% of the workforce in the US is expected to be freelancers by 2027. Many of them – not all – have skills that they can sell to clients while they are actually staying at home, or on the other side of the world. Digital nomads started the trend of traveling and working years ago. Now, both young adults and seasoned knowledge workers are trying the life of a connected nomad.

3. Data, Revolutionised

Automatic collection of data is familiar for all of us because of companies like Facebook and Google. They have been criticized for their collection and of archiving private data for business purposes. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are connecting fridges, lamps, door bells and practically everything else to the network so that we can monitor and control our homes, police can monitor streets, and Facebook and Google everything.

Travel businesses and officials are also collecting private data from travelers. For businesses, it is a way of learning more about their customers and a way for governments to secure borders. The collection of data will increase – there is no stopping it. It is up to travel businesses to apply the rules of the Europe’s GDPR and respective laws in other regions that are already being prepared across the world.
selfie photograph takers at a viewing platform

4. Power, Redistributed

The economic power and demographic power is shifting to the East. Pretty quickly. China’s GDP is expected to overtake the US by late 2020s. But it is not only about China: also India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey are forecasted to grow strongly and comprise 50% of global GDP within the next 30 years.

China has been identified in specific markets, such as in Rovaniemi, Lapland years ago as the number one priority. Years ago, Nordic airline Finnair positioned itself as the hub between Asia and Europe. Today, everyone who has traveled in popular destinations in Europe recently has witnessed large groups of Chinese selfie-takers at all key sights.

5. Consumption, Reimagined

Years of talk of tourism causing pollution and breaking sensitive ecosystems has led to initiatives like sustainable tourism and ethical travel. Some travelers even try to compensate their air miles by reducing their carbon footprint by other means. This is an opportunity for travel businesses that can offer nature-friendly products.

Overtourism – although not discussed in the report – is a serious concern for regions that are getting so many travelers that their way of life and identity are at risk. Venice and Barcelona are examples of cities that are already finding ways to balance the needs of locals and travelers.

The WTTC report concludes that

– Tomorrow’s traveller is not the same as a traveler today. More personalization, enrichment of experiences and autonomy will be required in travel products and services.
– Travel businesses are going to have to deliver authentic experiences to tourists. Some of the experiences are likely to be enhanced by technology, like AR (augmented reality).
– Travel industry will capitalise on new trends, business models and technologies. Businesses that don’t adopt will be left behind. An example is electric vehicles that can assist both locals and visitors to move around in urban environment easily and without polluting the air.

Is reading on an e-reader considered screen time?

2019-02-25

Many parents restrict the time their children (or parents themselves) can access phones, tablets or any electronic devices with a screen. But what about an ereader? Kindle, Kobo, Nook or another device that is designed for reading ebooks has a screen. The difference is that these products have a black-and-white display that doesn’t emit light (unless the optional front light is turned on). Let’s find out what science says about screen time and ereaders.
e-reader on top of paper book stack in sunshine
References to studies that indicate the bright color screens of phones, tablets and computers (LCD and LED technology that emit light) are harmful to the eyes frequently circulate on the internet, just like studies that prove they are not harmful at all. Which is correct? Well, let’s look at the big picture first.

Does your back ache if you sit in a same position through your work day? Do your feet hurt if you stand your entire work shift? Yes, they probably do ache. The same applies to eye muscles. The key is to take breaks from an activity, and give muscles a rest every once in awhile.

Optometrists recommend taking a break

North American Optometrists believe that the essential method to avoid eye strain is to take breaks and let eyes rest – independent of the media used for reading. You may read paper books, ebooks on an ereader or on a tablet – it really doesn’t matter – as long as you take a break every 20 minutes. Optometrists remind that reading a printed book in dim light causes eye strain, as well as a screen that is too bright.
digital nomad working at a terrace near fruit farms of Murcia

This is the fastest medium for learning

Some people like printed books, others like ebooks. If you ask which one is better for reading and learning, answers vary.

Scientists have studied the reading speed on paper, E ink (e-ereader) screen and LCD (tablet) screen. The research paper LCD vs. E-ink: An Analysis of the Reading Behavior concludes that there are no significant differences in reading speed and reading behavior between paper, ereader and tablet. This is after readers have become familiar with their new devices.

“As we know from earlier studies the reading process
when reading on an e-ink-reader is very similar to the
reading process when reading a classic paper book
(Siegenthaler et al., 2011). Since the results in the present
study show that reading on a tablet is not worse than
reading on an e-ink-reader we can conclude that reading
on a tablet is under artificial light conditions not worse
than reading on a classic paper book.”

blue sky and clouds

Eyeglasses with blue light filter

Blue light emitted by color screens has made many people worry because some studies claim it can cause serious diseases, whereas other studies argue blue light can be a cure for high blood pressure and other conditions.

A balanced approach by a number of scientists, however, emphasizes that blue light has always existed, and we have always been affected by it. Look at the blue sky. Natural sleep cycle, and getting enough sleep is the key thing instead of panicking because of the effects of blue light.

If you are offered new reading eyeglasses with a blue light filter (like I was recently), think twice.

The answer

No, reading on an ereader doesn’t have to be counted as screen time – if the device is used for reading. Pay attention to the light so that the screen gets enough light. Take a brief break every 20 minutes for the eyes.

If the screen time restrictions concern social media, YouTube, Instagram, and messaging, most ereaders are fine, because they are running on proprietary software where you can’t install additional apps. Some new ereaders, however, are running on Android software, and it is possible to download applications from Google Play Store on those devices.

The best tools that can replace Google services for privacy-minded people

2018-12-26

I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely annoying when I’m researching, say, New Zealand for an article or a book, and suddenly I’m bombarded with ads of hotels in the destination. Privacy is an important factor why many colleagues have given up Google products, whereas frequent travelers have fed up with Google’s inability to manage travel access to its services. In this article, you will find the best privacy-tested alternatives to Google services.
Google services symbols
Google’s (as well as Facebook’s and many other big internet companies) business model depends on sucking users’ private and non-private data, using it for ad targeting, and selling it to other companies. This is why Google will collect your data even if you specify in product settings that you don’t want to be tracked. So, the safest choice is to switch to another product.

The best user-recommended products to replace Google’s online services

No More Google web site has collected a long list of alternative products that can replace Google products. The alternative products and services are recommended by internet users who have realized they must manage their privacy themselves (and not leave it to big internet companies). Here are a few of the popular choices:

  • Google Search – DuckDuckGo is the most liked privacy-enabled search engine.
  • Gmail – Protonmail is the most recommended email system.
  • Google Chrome – Firefox is the most recommended alternative product to the Google web browser.
  • Google Maps – Openstreetmap
  • YouTube – Vimeo
  • Google Drive – Dropbox
  • Google Docs – Notion
  • Google Analytics – Matomo
  • Hangouts – Telegram
  • Blogger – WordPress
  • Google+ – the social media service is closing in April 2019.

 

In addition to DuckDuckGo search engine, Qwant and StartPage are good alternatives as well. For browsers, Opera and Vivaldi are good choices, too.
Qwant search engine home page

Replacing Google hardware with privacy-friendly products

Google is also marketing hardware products, such as smartphones and home gadgets. That’s not all, because operating system software is closely related to hardware. Operating systems are built in to hardware products. That’s why it makes sense to pay attention to the operating systems as well, because companies like Samsung, LG, Nokia, Huawei and others use a Google operating system in their phones and tablets.

Here are a few alternative products to Google hardware products and operating systems:

  • Android – the most viable alternatives at the moment are Purism Librem 5 smartphone (built on open source Linux) and open source project /e/ that has released a beta operating system for smartphones.
  • Chrome OS – any desktop Linux, like Ubuntu, Manjaro or Mint is an alternative to the Google operating system (although Linux desktops have not been designed exactly for the same purpose).
  • Google Pixel smartphones – We may have to wait until Purism gets its Liberm 5 phone to the shops, or the /e/ foundation manages to convince a hardware manufacturer to factory-install the /e/ software, so that we can buy a phone that doesn’t leak data to Google.
  • Pixel Slate tablet/laptop – a sleek laptop running on Linux is an alternative to the Google tablet/laptop.
  • Google Assistant – voice assistants require computing power that is usually provided by big server computers in data centers. Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana all work in the same manner, so it is a choice of brand you trust the most.
  • Home Hub – Google home automation products communicate with this tablet-like device. It knows everything that is going on in the system. If it is connected to the internet, privacy and security risks are inevitable. The best alternative is the brand you trust the most.
  • Nest – all gadgets that control and monitor home lights, alarm system, heating and other functions, and are connected to the internet have security and privacy risks.

Purism Libr smartphone
Purism Librem 5.

What is all this noise about WordPress 5 and Gutenberg?

2018-12-15

There is a moment in every author’s life when the question of having a web site becomes a hot topic. Most book publishing marketers recommend authors to have a dedicated personal or book related web site.

When it comes to online publications – blogs, personal web pages, business sites, news publications, you name it – the most popular online publishing system is WordPress. However, WordPress is going through a big change that affects existing web sites and new publications that use it. This article outlines what WordPress 5 means for people who already use, or are planning to use WordPress for their online publications.
Wordpress mug, 15 years
WordPress 5 was made available in early December 2018. The thing that makes it important for everyone dealing with this publication system is that version 5.0 was the first step into a new kind of WordPress. Eventually, designing web sites, coding new functionality, and writing content will change in WordPress.

First, the writing tool (editor) changed into a new kind of text editor where everything is made of blocks. A heading is a block, a paragraph is a block, an image is a block, and so on. It is not an intuitive way of writing for authors who are used to text processing applications, like Word, LibreOffice or Pages. The good news is that it is perfectly fine to write a blog post or another page in a familiar word processor, copy-paste the text into the new writing tool known as Gutenberg, and hit publish.

Two main methods of getting a personal WordPress web site that you control are signing up to the WordPress.com service, or running your own web site on a server hosted by an internet service provider.

Having a web site at WordPress.com means you don’t have to worry about operating or administering the system, but focus on writing new posts, inserting new photographs, or changing colors on the pages. There are limits what can be customized, but for simple blogs and homepages, the limitations are not meaningful.

Running your own WordPress web site on a hosted server means you must know something about web servers, databases, and the technology of WordPress. The possibilities to customize the site are practically endless. The actual software can be downloaded from WordPress.org. This option often lets you set up multiple sites, if that is something you need.

Independent of the way a WordPress 5 web site has been activated, it is possible to add new functions (plugins), change the layout and look of the pages (themes), and tweak many settings of the publication.
letters on heads of metal arms in typewriter
Since WordPress is in the process of reinventing itself, it is important to take the following into account if you already have, or are planning to start a web site:

A. If you are new to WordPress, forget the confusing talk that concerns versions prior to 5.0. Go directly to version 5, and stay there.
B. If you already have a WordPress site, the long-term strategy should be version 5 and Gutenberg, but be careful when you go there. This article has good tips for everyone wondering what to do with version 5 and the Gutenberg editor.

All and all, WordPress is much more than a simple blogging tool or a site for a simple homepage. That is why it has a learning curve for anyone who is not familiar with web technologies, but it grows with you wherever your journey takes you.

This is why it is so damn difficult to find the right note taking application – but it is possible

2018-12-09

Writers, editors, readers, freelancers, actually all people who do creative work that requires thinking and planning need to take notes. No one wants to lose that billion dollar product idea, solution to a programming problem that presents itself on a mountainbike trail, or perfect plan for backyard plant arrangement. In pre-electronic times humans used to scribble words and sketches on paper, but modern people have gadgets instead of dead wood. How to discover the best app for taking notes on a phone, tablet and PC?
Tavira, Portugal: a non-digital nomad in a park
The excellent article by Tim King helped me realize the root cause for the eternal note taking problem.

Note taking is a highly personal thing. What you want to write down, why you have to make a note of just that thing, where you do it, at what time ideas and plans light a bulb in your head is individual. Do you want to organize your notes, or stash everything in one big pile? Do you sort them by date, topic, tag, keyword, alphabetically, or by person? Do you want to list them by category, or search by any word that points you to the right direction?

The requirements and differences between people are endless. If you have tried to find a note taking app in an application store, you may have wondered why there are so many of them? Hundreds of apps more or less do exactly the same thing. It looks like many programmers have had the same problem, and they have approached it from their personal perspective.

Let’s get Evernote out of the way, here and now, because someone is surely thinking: what is the problem, why not Evernote? I believe it is the most confusing note taking application I have ever tried. After an hour of fiddling around with it, adjusting, tailoring, trying to find a way that would suit me, I gave up. It was impossible for me to use.
Simplenote in a web browser

So, what is the best solution for note taking?

For a year or so, I have been using a combination of tools for writing down drafts, ideas and plans:

Simplenote

For quickly drafting a memo that is available for all your computers and gadgets, Simplenote is a perfect tool. It is perfect because it doesn’t have any features. Well, you can tag and share your notes, but that’s it. The developers have really managed to keep it simple. Excellent. This is a cloud service that can be accessed in any browser, but also dedicated apps are available for mobile devices. Note taking apps that require network connection have risks (of losing your work if the connection brakes down), but Simplenote has been designed to survive them.

Offline apps for mobile devices

Since I know I am not always close enough to mobile phone network signal, I have installed an offline note taking app in every phone and tablet I have. I can’t even remember the names of the applications because it doesn’t matter. I use an offline app only for quickly jotting down something. When I’m back in the network’s signal range, I can email the draft to myself.

Sure, but what’s the best note app for the rest of the world?

The solution I described above works for me, but perhaps not for 92% of people who are looking for one. To make your search for that perfect app easier, consider these points to narrow down the candidates:

If you are an organized person, look for an app that lets you group, categorize, tag, and arrange the notes in a way you want.

If you tend to rush to write down your thoughts without worrying about headings, links, keywords or categories, an app with a few features is probably for you.

Sometimes, it is not possible to type, but it may be possible to speak. Recording a brief voice memo in a note app can be a useful feature. Also, a photo can remind you of an important thing. Snap a photo in the phone camera and attach it to a note.

I’m still looking for that almost-perfect solution for notes. The limitations of Simplenote are evident for someone who uses it as much as I do. Since I have already found another person who has the same problem, perhaps we can discover something some day.

The nostalgic lure of old, beautiful mechanical typewriters

2018-11-23

Electronic typewriters that mimic the look and feel – and to a certain extent – the functionality of old mechanical typewriters are wanted products. Many typewriter-like devices have been introduced lately, such as Rymek, Freewrite and Penna, targeted at distraction-free writing. How does the original product – a completely mechanical typewriter – function when used for real work? I decided to find out.
mechanical typewriter Olympia
I dusted and oiled an old Olympia typewriter in order to discover if it still worked or if it had rusted into a useless piece of metal. It showed its age with a bit of rust here and there, plenty of wear and tear, but the machine still worked!
old typewriter still works despite rust

Bang, bang, clonk claimed the typewriter

It was like a miracle. Push a button, and watch a thin, beautifully molded metal arm hit the paper. Bang, bang, cling, clonk, bang. It sure made noise. Well, everyone in the house could hear I am working, and not watching esports videos on YouTube.

Banging keys, watching letters appear on plain white paper – realizing it was my fingers that made it happen – brought a feeling of achievement. I have made something concrete that can be touched and viewed. Look at it!

A couple of lines later, I realized I must forget about my six-finger semi-rapid typing system, and push the keys with index fingers only. The keys move a long way before they hit the paper. Also, hitting too quickly keys that are located next to each other may tangle them.

Did you know why the large key in computer keyboards is called Return or Enter? Its origin is the large handle – known as carriage return in typewriters – that advances the paper upwards and moves the entire carriage back to the beginning of new line. The handle is my favorite part in the typewriter. What a satisfaction it brings when I pull the handle, and feel the heavy metal smoothly move to a new position with high precision. Ah, the German engineering by Olympia.
Olympia typewriter made in Germany

A typo means disaster

Accidentally, I made a typo. Now what? Leave it there and continue? Rip off the paper, and insert a clean sheet? Re-type the entire page? What?

At this point, I understand the lure of electronic typewriters that resemble their mechanical cousins, with a couple of key differences: it is possible to correct typos and save the typed texts in digital format for further editing.
text on paper type on an old typewriter

It is nostalgia, not a writer’s tool

I know some antique shops sell hundreds of refurbished old machines every month, movies have been made of typewriters, books have been written about these mechanical wonders (actor Tom Hanks seems to be the unofficial poster boy of the typewriter-movement), musicians are playing them like instruments, but are they seriously suggesting that typewriters should be used for real work? No, I don’t think so.

Of course, just like a professional carpenter may use a manual drill to make a unique special effect in a project, a professional writer may use a typewriter (probably an electronic version) for a specific reason, like avoiding distractions when working.

Mechanical typewriters certainly are wonders of old school engineering. They are beautiful products, enjoyable to photograph. You can see how they work, and appreciate the precise movement of the parts. If they break down, you can repair most problems by yourself.

Nostalgia is written all over the old keys, ribbons and carriages. Yet, nothing changes the fact that the world has moved on.

letters on heads of metal arms in typewriter
Olympia mechanical typewriter ready for writing

The special screen of Remarkable paper tablet/ereader is tailored for handwriting and drawing

2018-11-12

The Remarkable ereader/writing tablet has already been available for a year, but only the recent software upgrade delivered the great promise of the product: it can convert handwriting to text along with a selection of new tools that aid writing and drawing on the screen. The key principal of Remarkable is to be a tool that feels like paper and pen when used for writing and sketching. The company says they spent four years developing display-stylus technology that mimics the tactility and response of paper.
Remarkable paper tablet/ereader
The Remarkable writing tablet/ereader is priced at 599 euros. Essentially, you get a 10-inch ereader with a special display laid over E ink display technology that turns the device into a slate for writing and drawing. The stylus is included.

The display-stylus combination can recognize a wide variety of pressures and angles, producing results like handwriting or drawing on paper would produce.

The Canvas display, as Remarkable calls it, is something that only Remarkable has, making it different from other 10-inch ereader/writing tablets that have been introduced during 2017 and 2018.

One of the new features is the conversion of handwriting into text that can be edited and inserted into other documents. Here is a video clip that shows how the handwriting conversion works on the Remarkable:

The fall 2018 software update to the Remarkable writing tablet has so many new features that it makes me wonder how all those customers who bought the product before the update used their device? Probably many of them had a specific task in mind how they wanted to use the product, like researchers who have to read a lot of documents or knowledge workers who have to study both technical and business documents. In fact, Sony had identified the latter requirement a couple of years ago, and developed the ereader/writing tablet DPT-CP1 for this market.
Remarkable writing tablet/e-reader
Apple and Microsoft have also discovered this market, but have developed tablets to meet the needs of people who want to write with a pen. The iPad Pro and Surface Pro are powerful, high end tablets that allow handwriting, note taking, and drawing with a stylus.

Other e-reader vendors have also turned their attention to 8 and 10 inch devices. Many of these products come with stylus that let you write and draw on the screen. Some of the manufacturers are Onyx and Boyue.

Remarkable writing tablet/ereader key features and specifications

Remarkable pen / stylus

10.3-inch monochrome display in 1872×1404 resolution (226 DPI). Multi-point capacitive touch.
Partially powered by E-ink Carta technology.
The screen has paper-like surface friction. No glass parts, making it robust.
The included stylus features a high-friction pen tip. Tilt detection and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity.
Dimensions 177 x 256 x 6.7mm (6.9 x 10.1 x .26 inches).
Weight approximately 350 gram (.77 pounds).
Wi-Fi.
Micro USB.
8 GB internal storage, about 100,000 pages.
512 MB RAM.
1 GHz ARM A9 CPU processor.
Operating system is a customized Linux software called Codex.
Can open PDF and ePUB documents and ebooks.
Menu language: English.
3000 mAh battery.
Remarkable has its own cloud service where product owners can automatically sync the works they draft on the slate.

A video by Remarkable shows the paper tablet’s many features for note taking and sketching:

The curious case of Magik Book, an innovation seeking rationale

2018-11-06

Product catalogs are bestsellers among certain types of readers. Catalogs are made for browsing, viewing beautiful photographs and for dreaming of owning products listed on a glossy paper. Of course, catalogs were one of the first print products to move to the internet because of cost savings, accessibility and ease of keeping them up-to-date. Magik Book, however, believes print catalogs are more important than ever, and has integrated catalogs with mobile devices.
Magik Book paper product catalog and tablet app
The Magic Book concept is to sync a tablet or phone with the page of a product catalog. For instance, a company wants to create a catalog of garden furniture. It doesn’t have to be as thick and extensive as an Ikea catalog, but attractive photos taken in beautiful gardens is all-important. Before opening the catalog, a potential customer must download the Magik Book app to his or her phone or tablet. As the customer turns pages of the paper catalog, the app on the mobile device displays additional information about the product featured on the print page. In the app, it is possible to share the information to social media channels or buy the product.

An introduction video to the Magik Book below shows how it works:

In effect, the simple task of browsing a product catalog has been turned into a tech challenge that requires the shopper to have two tools at hand: the print catalog and a mobile device (with an app downloaded as well, of course).

Instead of having the entire catalog on the mobile device and allowing the reader to access all possible information in the app, an awkward integration of paper catalog and mobile device has been established. Maybe the sync between paper catalog and mobile device works via NFC, but that’s not essential. The point is that it is difficult to see why anyone would invest in two things (paper catalog and mobile app) when everything can be provided to customers in one neat digital package.

The company behind Magik Book is based in Portugal. We have a suggestion: have a vacation in Portugal, and get to know the local culture and business customs before considering a project that involves this technology.

Via Ubergizmo.

UPDATE: The syncing of the paper catalog and the mobile application works via Magik Book’s patented “advanced magnetic field technology” (magnets in each page). Thank you for the additional information, Magik Book!

Trends in book business: small publishers win big traditional publishers in specific ebook genres

2018-10-12

A new report on the state of the ebook, audiobook and print book markets in the US was recently delivered by the number-crunching wizard Data Guy at Digital Book World Conference 2018. The statistics – that cover almost the entire online books sales in the US – indicate that readers of different book genres have vastly different preferences on book formats. Let’s analyze book publishing trends that can be identified from the Data Guy’s statistics.
ereader on top of stack of books

Strong sales of ebooks and audiobooks continue

The Author Earnings report measures ebook, audiobook and print book sales in the US online bookstores from April 2017 until September 2018. The total sales during these 18 months were:

Ebooks 4.0 billion dollars, 781 million units
Audiobooks 2.6 billion dollars, 145 million units
Print books 7.3 billion dollars, 407 million units

Roughly half (54%) of print books are sold by brick-and-mortar bookstores in the US. Even if we add print books sold by physical bookstores to the numbers that were achieved by online stores, ebook unit sales nearly match print book unit sales in the US.

The trend identified in the Author Earnings report is the decline of sales via brick-and-mortar bookstores, reduction in the number of physical bookstores, and increasing sales via online stores. Amazon is a dominant player that is still growing its market share in all book formats, also print. In fact, for some nonfiction genres, Amazon accounts 70-75% of all print book sales in the US.
bookshop of antique books in Spain

Ebook vs print book market share is highly dependent on genre

Erotica and mystery genres have been regarded the most successful categories in ebooks, and Data Guy’s report confirms the wisdom for mystery genre, at least. Business & Money titles in nonfiction category are more popular as ebooks than print books. The following numbers indicate sales only at online bookstores in the US.

57% of Business and Money category unit sales are ebooks and audiobooks.

59% of these ebooks are published by other than big publishers (such as indies, self-publishers, small publishers). The situation with audiobooks is completely different: 80.6% of audiobooks were made available by big publishers, and 56.5% of print books are from big publishers.

50% of Health, Fitness and Dieting unit sales are ebooks and audiobooks.

62% of these ebooks were published by small publishers, indies and self-publishers. 81.6% of audiobooks were produced by big publishers. 54.7% of print sales were made by big publishers.

73% of Teen and Young Adult unit sales are ebooks and audiobooks.

A massive 71.6% of these ebooks were published by small publishers and self-publishers, whereas 74.7% of audiobooks came from big publishers, and 65.2% of print books were by big publishers.

93% of Mystery, Thriller and Suspense category unit sales are ebooks and audiobooks.

52.9% of ebooks by big publishers, 93.1% of audiobooks by big publishers, 89% of print books big publishers.

Small publishers see opportunities in book formats and genres where the upfront investment is low – often ebooks. Audiobooks and print require more upfront investment, and large companies can afford financial risks better than small businesses.

Data scraping

Ever since Data Guy published his first report on ebook sales that included statistics never seen before, book industry experts have been discussing about the true state of digital book market versus print market. Independent of what you think of Data Guy’s number collection methods (that he calls data scraping), there is plenty of demand for his statistics in the book industry. Bookstat provides detailed reports on book sales for publishers without months of delay. When Bookstat numbers were tested against NPD PubTrack statistics that measure the ebook sales of big publishers in the US, the numbers matched within 6% accuracy.

You can listen to Data Guy himself explaining the data scraping method and other details in a podcast by Mark Dawson.